Thursday, November 24, 2011

Dickens the Master

I recently read 'A Tale of Two Cities' by Charles Dickens for the first time. As a child I enjoyed reading the old classics - while many of the subtleties and themes went right over my head, the usually intricate and convoluted plots were enough to fire my juvenile imagination. However Dickens was one of the few authors I really could not warm to. At one point I gave 'Great Expectations' a try, but the grim realism and the gritty depictions of both the characters and their surroundings were just too much for me at the time.

As an adult however, it was these very traits which appealed to me when reading 'A Tale of Two Cities'. Very few writers can set a scene the way Dickens could. Even fewer can infuse a page with a palpable atmosphere, especially when it comes to creating a sense of tension. At these moments Dickens' use of language is masterful, and I think most writers can learn a lot from his technique at these times.

While many classics are written in flowery and often superfluous language, Dickens is at his best when he uses a stripped back, bare, and somewhat modern style. He can make a four word sentence, isolated in a paragraph of its own, speak volumes. One of the best examples of this can be found in Chapter 13 of 'A Tale of Two Cities'. The use of language in this entire chapter is incredibly skillful, and the dramatic tension is powerful throughout. The contrast in writing styles between the beginning and the end of the chapter is also meaningful and extremely clever.

I've linked an online version of the chapter above. If, like most of us, you want to improve your writing style, you may find you pick up a few tips from this great master.


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